There’s something about waking up to the fresh scent of a Douglas Fir that signals the end of fall and the beginning of winter.
The week of Thanksgiving, I start counting the days until it’s time to go Christmas tree shopping. I’m not particularly religious, but finding a little Noble or Douglas to bring home is a nostalgic experience that one can only enjoy one day out of the year.
Since moving to North Hollywood, my go-to Christmas tree lot has been the First United Methodist Church. Their trees range from $15 to $95, depending on the type and height.
In its 14th year, the sale takes place on the church’s 40-foot-by-75-foot front lawn. About 500 trees are sold during the holiday season, 77-year-old Charlie Cox tells me. He helped organized the church’s very first tree lot as a fundraiser and had been involved with the event up until two years ago, when “he got too old,” he jokes.
The lot has come a long way since he first organized it with the help of other church members. “We were pretty novice and naïve,” Cox says. The first year, he and his wife parked their pick-up truck and camper at the lot, then slept there for the first few days to keep an eye out on the trees.
But after 14 years, the only theft or vandalism they’ve experienced was a stolen wood cut-out of Santa and some reindeer that the staff had painted themselves. “That lasted one night,” he said, and the cut-out mysteriously disappeared.
Though it originally began as a way to raise money for the church, the Christmas tree lot has evolved into place that’s created a sense of community, says Cox. About half of their patrons are returning customers, and the seasonal event has become a way for them to meet their neighbors. Many of the church’s most active members joined after they'd visited the lot to buy a Christmas tree, Cox says.
The operation is run solely by volunteers – from church members, Boy Scouts, to North Hollywood High School students. The tree lot staff has never had to reach out for help because many people come to them first. Homeless people often come to volunteer, says Cox, and among their most interesting helpers was a woman who was a former carnival worker who volunteered for three straight years.
Despite the hardships many of their patrons may have faced as a result of the 2008 economic downturn, Cox says he hasn’t noticed a decrease in sales. If anything, they’ve had an increase in customers, he says.
The lot is all about “the bringing together of the family,” says Cox. He thinks people keep coming back because of the holiday spirit and the experience of picking a tree together as a family.
It's one of the reasons I go back to First United instead of a big-name retailer that may sell trees for slightly less. No matter how cold, windy or wet it may be, the volunteers always seem appreciative and happy to help. It makes the experience of picking out that perfect tree all the more enjoyable. And it's comforting to know my money will be well-spent – all proceeds benefit local charities.
The holiday season – with all things merry and bright, glitz and lights, and cinnamon and spice – always finds a way to warm my heart. And I’ll admit it, I enjoy (mostly) everything that comes with the territory: Salvation Army bell-ringers, my Nat King Cole playlists, decorated tree-lined sidewalks, singling out the bad fuse in a messy tangle of string lights, and even those colorful candy canes I’ll likely never eat.
I was raised Catholic, but I can't say Sunday church is much of a priority at this point in my life. But that doesn't mean the spirit of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Winter Solstice (or even Festivus and the Pastafarian Holiday) should be ignored. They’re all signs of a season that serves to remind us all – regardless of creed – to be nice to one another. That's something the people at First United always seems to remember, and it's why I'll keep going back every December.
First United Methodist Church is located at 4832 Tujunga Avenue, North Hollywood. Their Christmas tree lot is open Mondays through Fridays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 9 p.m. until December 24 or until the tree supply lasts.
About this column: I'll be your adventure guide through the bustling arts district, Toluca Lake and the rest of North Hollywood, surveying theater, film, books, music, politics, places and people for your daily culture intake.